Photo by Devon Arnold / Contributing Photographer
For the first time since 2001, the Blue Raiders open up the season 4-1 and are off to their best start in the Rick Stockstill era.
Middle Tennessee traveled to North Texas Saturday night, capturing their fourth victory of the season and their first ever at Apogee Stadium. The Blue Raiders were efficient on both sides of the ball, holding the Mean Green to just five rushing yards on the night en route to a commanding 30-13 victory.
The Mean Green struck first on their opening drive but struggled to move the ball throughout the remainder of the game. Facing a third and long, the Blue Raiders committed a pass interference, which set up North Texas with a first and goal. Jeffery Wilson punched it in on the goal line to give the Mean Green a 7-0 early lead.
The Blue Raiders would dominate the rest of the night, starting with their defense forcing two three and outs which lead to two quick Cannon Rooker field goals to get the team on the board.
The defense would again hold strong, allowing the Blue Raiders to take their first lead of the game just before halftime. Brent Stockstill led the team 84 yards down the field while completing six consecutive passes on the final drive of the half. Stockstill capped it off with an 11-yard touchdown strike from to Dennis Andrews to put the team up 13-7 after two quarters of play.
On Middle’s third drive of the second half, Mean Green punter Eric Keena pinned MTSU at their own 9-yard line. The Blue Raiders proceeded to march down the field with an impressive drive, ending it with a crisp slant over the middle from Ty Lee for the second Blue Raider touchdown of the game. The team would hold the comfortable 20-7 double digit lead into the final quarter.
The Blue Raiders opened the final 15 minutes with a Cannon Rooker career-high third field goal of the contest. The Mean Green attempted to commence a comeback as Mason Fine completed his only touchdown of the game to Kelvin Smith to trim the Blue Raiders lead to 10 with 2 minutes 20 seconds remaining in the game. However, time was against North Texas, and the Blue Raider offense had no intentions to quit.
MTSU obtained possession with a little under two minutes remaining. On the first play of the drive, I’Tavius Mathers blazed to the end-zone on a 46-yard rush to seal the victory for the Blue Raiders.
Mathers finished the night with 135 yards rushing, his third straight 100-yard performance.
Teammate Richie James finished with zero touchdowns on Saturday but he did record 138 yards receiving. James is now third all-time in 100-yard games with seven in his illustrious two-year career.
Defensively, Darius Harris lead the team with nine tackles and one for a loss on the night. Jeremy Cutrer ended with eight tackles, including 1.5 for loss. Dontavious Heard had his best game of the season yet, recording seven total tackles to go along with one sack, one tackle for loss and two pass break-ups.
The Blue Raiders are currently second in the C-USA Eastern Division heading into their bye week. Middle Tennessee will get two full weeks of rest before taking on rival Western Kentucky on Oct. 15 in what will be the biggest conference matchup of the season.